By Ashfaq Yusufzai and Dean Nelson
The Pakistan minister who offered a $100,000 (£61,000) bounty for the killing of a director whose anti-Islam film provoked worldwide protests told The Daily Telegraph he would not resign nor withdraw his incitement to murder.
Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Pakistan’s Railways Minister and one of the most powerful figures in the key coalition partner, the Awami National Party, has been under intense pressure to step down since inviting the Taliban and al-Qaeda to murder Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the U.S.-based Egyptian Coptic Christian behind the film Innocence of Muslims.
Since then, his comments have been denounced and disowned by Raja Pervez Ashraf, Pakistan’s prime minister, and his own party leadership, with several senior members calling on him to withdraw his offer and express regret.
But in a telephone interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said he did not regret his comments, stands by the bounty, and will not withdraw it.
“I cannot tolerate the insult of the holy prophet. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I am very honest and a true Muslim wouldn’t allow any blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him),” he said.
“These were my sentiments and feelings which I had announced.”
He denied he had been "out of his senses" when he issued the "head money" offer.
His comments will intensify pressure on President Asif Zardari to sack his defiant minister when he returns from addressing the United Nations General Assembly this week, where he is expected to call for an international anti-blasphemy law and compare it to laws in Europe which outlaw "Holocaust denial." But his proposal has been undermined by Bilour’s incitement and bounty offer.
Senior figures in his own party said they had called a series of meetings to decide whether to take action against him. Many are baffled by his actions given his long and high-risk opposition to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and his long-standing support for NATO intervention in Afghanistan and for Pakistan’s role as a supply route for its bases.
His appeal to the Taliban and al-Qaeda to murder Nakoula has angered some of his own senior party colleagues whose relatives have been assassinated by Taliban militants in their Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province.
“750 [of our] workers and leaders have been killed by Taliban in bombs and suicide attacks. Calling them brothers is like bargaining on the blood of the killed party workers,” said party spokesman Mian Iftikhar, whose only son was killed by the Taliban in 2010.
Another senior leader, Haji Mohammad Adeel, said while his party had disowned Bilour’s actions, it believed the director of the film should be “brought to justice” under American laws.
“It is religious terrorism against Muslims,” he said, and contrasted the recent outrage in Britain over the publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge with Western indifference to the offence caused to Muslims by the film.
“We have politely asked him [Bilour] to withdraw his offer but it’s very difficult. We believe in nonviolence and the judicial system,” he said. He said he believed his offer was an “emotional outburst” for the “love of our Prophet.”
“When it comes to religious beliefs, it’s very difficult for him to withdraw his words,” he said.
Bilour meanwhile denied claims by associates in Peshawar that he owns properties in London, where they said he regularly visits during the hot summer months. All his business is in Peshawar, he said. He did not clarify whether his family owned any British properties jointly.